Why Makoto Shinkai is the Haruki Murakami of Animation.
What happen when a gifted animator is also a student of Japanese Literature ? What happens is a series of visually remarkable animation works fused beautifully with an astounding script creating the magic that is Makoto Shinkai’s works.
I’ve to admit that Japanese animation film is one of my hidden guilty pleasure, I’m a huge fan of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki’s works (because, seriously, who doesn’t love Ghibli’s films?). But, aside from Ghibli’s films, I also deeply enjoy other Japanese animation works ranging from Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time to the rather twisted genre created by Satoshi Kon such as Paprika (which I’m pretty sure inspired Inception), Perfect Blue, and Tokyo Godfathers.
Back to Makoto Shinkai. I first watched his film back when I was a college student in Yogyakarta. His film, 5 centimeters per second, became widely popular in my class. From word of mouth and Twitter updates, the film circulated rather wildly among my class. The reason on why it became really popular in my class was rather plausible. 5 centimeters per second’s tagline was ‘A Chain of Short Stories About Their Distance’, despite being an animation film, 5 centimeters per second definitely targeted young adults because it’s essentially a romance film. My class and I were in our either first or second year, and with a majority of the class coming outside of Yogyakarta, there’re many long distance relationship stories that happened amongst us thus making the melancholic and heartbreaking film a popular choice to accompany the somber night.
Makoto Shinkai is notably known for its’ stunning visual in all of his films, the still capture of his film is astoundingly beautiful. Like many Japanese films that I’ve come to admire, Shinkai also embraces the Japanese concept of Ma (間), roughly translated as negative space or can be understood as a pause or void between things. According to wawaza.com, Ma is the emptiness full of possibilities, like a promise yet to be fulfilled. Many of his shot lingers in one scenery, pausing while we can hear the raw background sound from nature as the view of leaves swaying briskly, rain pours second by second, and sakura starts to fall romantically into the ground consummate us with awe. It is highly recommended to watch his films in the most HD quality that you can find to be able to truly enjoy it. If you’re not able to digest its’ depressing storyline, at least you can devour its’ pleasant animation. But, what dazzles me the most about Makoto Shinkai isn’t only his animation, but rather, the script of his films.
The Artifice once wrote in their article about Shinkai and dubbed him, The Master of Loneliness, due to the major theme of his works. If you’ve read at least just one Haruki Murakami’s works and watch Makoto Shinkai’s films, you’ll be swept with a sense of an unmistakable similarity. Both Shinkai and Murakami’s works use the first person narrative, exploring the narrator’s deep intimate contemplation about themselves which mostly revolves around their loneliness, isolation, and a deep yearning for something that they’ve yet not understood. One other similarity between Shinkai and Murakami’s works are their tendency to leave things open-ended, leaving viewers and readers with questions and shrouded the ending of the story with a vague explanation. Also, if you’ve watched Shinkai’s works titled ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below’, ‘Voices of a Distant Star’, and ‘Place Promised in our Early Days’, you’ll also feel the same of odd familiarity with Murakami’s works such as Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and IQ84. There’s this sense of surrealism, a vague background story, things intendedly not explained well to viewers and readers and strange creature that is dream-like. All of the feelings that are evoked by both Shinkai and Murakami’s works, to me, can be described as a feeling of acute loneliness, as if you’re being disconnected by the world and dragged into this world of vagueness where I’m not sure whether I’m dreaming or not because it’s too eerie and vague to be a real life but it’s also too real and the feelings are too familiar to be called a dream.
Above is a script in Shinkai’s work and below is a quote from Murakami’s work.
Two of Murakami’s works, Norwegian Wood and Tony Takitani (A short story by Murakami) has been adapted into film and if you watch both of it then watch Shinkai’s work, you’ll be able to discern the similarity: one’s deep inner thought about their isolation and loneliness, their yearning or their finding of one’s meaning of life, and frequent pause that are suffocating and overpowered the viewers with a sense of loneliness. To me, Makoto Shinkai is the Haruki Murakami of animation, his works of animation is like a beautifully written poetry accompanied with heartbreaking visuals. As someone who’s intrigued by words, what makes Shinkai special and set him apart from other Japanese animation directors are his penchant for words that remind me of Murakami’s books, such a work of finely crafted arts.